Earlier this month I had to buy a specific issue of Poetry so that I could read You Can Take Off Your Sweater, I’ve Made Today Warm in it’s full fold-out glory. I originally heard Paige Lewis read it on the Poetry Magazine Podcast, where it is explained that the poem is laid out to express the disintegration of someone’s power over the other.
(note: I posted this later than expected, and also, the formating is really not right on medium. Please read the real thing!)
The poem shows the kind of possessive bargaining and rationalisation that the controlling player uses to try and coerce the other. The men, who have stopped their important work, and use useful toothpaste rather than mint (which you can plant to keep deer out of your garden, by the way) for her are part of the threat of putting someone else out — that the subject is being inconvenient by not complying. This threat is the subtext of the speaker’s point which is rounded on later in the lines:
aren’t you known aren’t you
(note: in my quotes I have made bold the most relevant lines)
The idea that any change could lead to the destruction of the current identity, isn’t it better to have something, even if you don’t like it, than not? the voice says.
The voice also uses strange explanations to make the current world seem good enough, surely. The men, from space, are explained as good men by describing their boyhood kindness:
liftoff, think home. When they were boys
they were gentle. And smart. One could
tie string around a fly without cinching it
in half. One wrote tales of sailors who
drowned after mistaking the backs of
whales for islands. Does it matter which
Except, even this explanation of the men’s formative kindness is about how kind and gentle they were in capturing a creature and keeping it captive, or how they wrote sensitively about other’s failures.
When the subject walks away, and the page falls apart, whimsical bargaining begins, demonstrations of power:
this world is already willing
to give you anything do you want to know Latin
okay now everyone
here knows Latin want inflatable deer deer ! i promise the winter /
summer children will barely hurt dear i’m hurt that you would ever think
i don’t glisten to you i’m always glistening
The power to make everyone know Latin is very Genesis — he said there would be Latin in everyone’s heads; and there was Latin in everybody’s heads. Whereas the offering inflatable deer seems to suggest the waning of power, reducing the offer — the slipping of what can be done to this person’s reality as they slip from having complete control over it.
My favourite lines might be those about glistening, a mishearing pun, the protestation that the subject is of course being glistened to shows the power over the subject disappearing almost entirely.
The poem ends with the central threat again, but inverted on the voice rather than to the subject — the threat that the world will be different and identity will be lost in the change. For the voice it’s the loss of power, that strips them of identity, the fact that they are no longer authoring the world.
how can you be certain that anywhere else will provide
more pears than you could ever eat
remember the sweet rot of it all
come back you forgot your sweater
what if there’s nothing there when you —
you don’t have your
what if it’s cold
Of course, this entire newsletter could have been me linking the Paige Lewis poem to Weezer’s Undone — The Sweater Song for a few hundred words. After all, if you want to destroy my sweater, pull this thread as I walk away — which is kind of like the structure of the poem, that unravelling of the lines into an undone pile.
Paige let me know that no, she’d never heard this song before.
Valentine’s day is coming up, meaning you’ll have to tell the people you’re already gripping tightly as you go over the Niagara falls of life that you wuv them ver’ much. Or someone else I suppose. Regardless of whether you’re sending a heartfelt sonnet dedicated to the left earlobe or right jowl of someone you’d like to ruin your life for, or desperately searching Tesco’s for something that will bloody do, can I suggest also supplying that special someone with one of Brittney Scott’s horrible valentine’s e-cards. Although, of course, this is one of the most romantic sentences ever written, so you could send that instead.
Also: Valentine’s day dinner ideas.
I recently discovered Joe Frank, by discovering that he had died. I discovered this through the excellent Radiolab tribute to him. This gives a very good flavour of what Joe Frank did on his radio show. If you’d like to explore his work a little more, there’s these longer pieces such as: Ascent of K2 (weird, one of the best examples of his amazing voice), From Someone Who Cares (sad, a little creepy), Odd Jobs (weird, violent).
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own, the internet’s premier knitwear culture glossy magazine. Masthead: just @CJEggett, who can’t see typos, but can see your lovely emails — reply to this email to receive your free digital copy of next week’s issue, next week. Sign up friends and family here, against the coming GDPR apocalypse’s regulations. To be in the presence of greatness unfurling. Read old issues of ETTO over here, if you’re a glutton for punishment.